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date: 18 January 2019

Nomadic Warfare before Firearms

Summary and Keywords

Nomadic warfare in the Eurasian steppes centered on a mobile horse-archer whose composite bow was surpassed by firearms only in the 17th and 18th centuries. Until the rise of effective firearms, pastoral nomadic horse-archers were the most dominant element on the battlefield. Even after the advent of firearms, nomads remained effective. The horse-archer’s bow possessed comparable accuracy, range, and a more favorable rate of fire than slow-loading harquebuses. As early firearms tended to be slow and inaccurate, they were not decisive against nomads until cannons became sufficiently mobile to disrupt formations of swift moving horse-archers. Even then, it was still necessary for states to have well-developed logistical systems in order to support sedentary-firearms-based armies in the steppes. These armies still found it necessary to have suitable numbers of nomads to serve as scouts and to protect their flanks. While massed firearm-wielding infantry, accompanied by cannons, could defeat nomadic armies, they remained vulnerable in transit.

The success of nomadic warfare prior to firearms was dependent not only on technological factors such as the composite bow and lamellar armor, but also factors such as tactics that became a standard part of steppe warfare, including the feigned retreat and encirclements. The strategic and tactical level of steppe warfare reached its zenith during the period of the Mongol Empire, which also ushered in a revolution in steppe warfare. Other factors also played a part, including the training for warfare through hunting and herding. Combined with a vigorous and often harsh lifestyle on the steppes, sedentary observers often viewed the pastoral nomadic warrior as if bred for war.

Keywords: Avar, composite bow, horse, lamellar armor, military organization, Khitans, Mongol, Scythian, Turks, Xiongnu

The Eurasian Steppes stretch from Manchuria in the east and into Hungary and Romania in the west. Although large sections consist of flat or rolling grasslands, the steppes are interrupted by scrubby deserts, mountains, and hills, and divided by sizable rivers such as the Dnieper, Volga, and Irtysh. Due to an often-short growing season and low precipitation, agriculture did not establish deep roots in the steppes except in a few locations. By the late 8th century bce, most of the steppes inhabitants assumed a pastoral nomadic lifestyle in which they subsisted off the products of sheep, goats, horses, cattle (or yaks in high altitudes), and sometimes Bactrian (two-humped) camels. The nomads acquired products that they could not produce through trade or raiding, using their mastery of the horse and composite bow.

Due to this precarious lifestyle, the nomads acquired a high degree of martial prowess. Herds, flocks, and families needed protection from rival nomads. Meanwhile, sedentary powers often intruded into nomadic affairs and territories as well as dictated terms of trade. Furthermore, nomadic leaders who acquired sizable followings often required gifts to give to their supporters. As a result, acquisition through violence was sometimes preferable and even necessary.

The nomads were organized into tribes, a sociopolitical group based on, but not limited to, familial ties of a real or mythological ancestor. The identity of the tribe was linked to the dominant or ruling stratum of the tribe. Tribal members varied over time as groups joined or departed, both willingly and unwillingly. As long as the dominant group maintained its hegemony, it remained the ruling element.1 Occasionally, confederations of several tribes formed. The leader of a tribe or confederation lacked autocratic authority. Rather, he had to consult with the other tribal leaders and maintain their support. Should a leader try to impose his will without sufficient support, the tribal confederation tended to fragment. Generally, however, if the leader demonstrated competence in warfare and fulfilled social obligations toward his followers, then the confederation held together. Failure could mean the end of the confederation or the leader’s removal. With the formation of confederations, often in reaction to increased centralization by neighboring sedentary states, nomads not only formed steppe empires, but also competed for territory and tribute with sedentary empires in China, Central Asia, Iran, and the Black Sea littoral. Many of these including the Iranian Scythians (c. 700–200 bce) and Xiongnu (209 BCE–118 CE) extended their control over sedentary polities and secured supplies of grain and other goods that the nomads could not produce themselves.

The Horse

The key element for the nomadic success was the horse. It is what made pastoral nomadism possible and by extension, steppe warfare. The horse was domesticated between 4000 and 3000 bce, varying per region, with horseback riding arising not long afterward. The horse went from being a source of meat, to draft animal, to a key component in warfare. Pasture fed, the steppe horses tended to be smaller than other horses, but they were trained to have incredible endurance, and their life on the steppe made them tough and extremely hardy.

Prior to breaking horses for riding, the nomads largely used them to pull carts with solid-wheeled wagons known to be in use circa 3500 bce. With the invention of spoked wheels, intended to reduce the wheel’s weight, in modern Kazakhstan, chariots quickly came into existence around 2100 bce and spread to Mongolia between 2000 and 1200 bce. The chariot soon spread outside of the Eurasian steppes and appeared in the Middle East, Mycenaean Greece, and China between 1500 and 1250 bce. Chariots were in vogue in neighboring sedentary lands, but the nomads switched to horseback riding.2 While horseback riding occurred much earlier than this and perhaps even raiding via horseback, actual cavalry armies did not appear until circa 1000 bce in the steppes.3 Initially, the chariot was ideal in warfare, due to its mobility; with two axles, it could make sharper turns. The fragility of the chariot on the open steppe and long migrations between pastures gradually made the chariots impractical compared to riding on horses. By the 1st millennium bce, horseback riding was ubiquitous across the steppes.

Archaeological finds among the Botai Tersek culture in northern Kazakhstan include primitive bridles, suggesting horseback riding began around 3500 bce with confirmed evidence that horse riders were known in Mesopotamia by circa 2025 bce.4 Archaeological evidence from horse accoutrements, such as bits, suggests that horseback riding took root in what is now modern Kazakhstan sometime between 3700 and 3300 bce; there is also evidence that pushes the date to 4200 bce.5 While nomads adopted horse riding early, it did not necessarily impact warfare at the same time. In 1200 bce bronze bits appeared in the western steppes, reaching Mongolia in the 9th century. Previously, horses could be ridden for raiding, but controlling the horse was difficult. With new and better bits (as opposed to bone, wood, or leather), the rider could stop the horse quickly and direct it in battle.6 Another key technology was the development of the saddle, appearing between 900 and 800 bce. The saddle provided a more secure (and comfortable) method of riding.7 The use of the horse in warfare by these nomads, called Hu by the Chinese Zhou dynasty (1122–256 bce), revealed the inferiority of chariot-based warfare. The Zhou and subsequent dynasties and border-states followed suit.

The horse gave the nomads a considerable advantage in terms of mobility. When the Persian emperor Darius I (r. 522–486 bce) attacked the Scythians in 513 bce, the nomads simply retreated before him. When other tribes refused to joined the Scythians, they led the Persian armies through the recalcitrant tribes’ pastures, forcing them to engage the Persians. Meanwhile, Scythian warriors harassed the flanks of the Persians. When Darius finally realized the futility of attacking an enemy who lacked permanent cities, he retreated but faced constant harassment as he attempted to extract his army from the steppes.8

In the east, nomads carried out the similar practices. The confederation known as the Xiongnu dominated the eastern steppes in the 3rd century bce with the rise of Modu Chanyu (r. 209–174 bce) and continued to be a factor into the 200s ce. The Xiongnu also used mobility to establish their dominance not only over other nomads such as the Yuezhi and Donghu, but also vis-à-vis the Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce). Under Modu’s leadership, the Xiongnu Empire extended from Manchuria into modern Xinjiang and Gansu province in China. When the Han imposed unfavorable trading terms, the Xiongnu attacked the borders in lightning strikes, pillaging and plundering. When Emperor Gaozu (r. 202–195 bce) attempted to bring the Xiongnu to heel in 201 bce, his experience was akin to that of Darius. The Xiongnu simply retreated deeper into the steppes until the Han army’s supply lines were over-extended. Only then did the Xiongnu attack. Emperor Gaozu soon enacted the heqin treaties, which sent regular gifts or tribute of wine, silk, grain, and other goods to the Xiongnu, as well as a princess, with the idea of forming a marriage alliance. Ideally, the princess and her entourage would also produce a civilizing effect on the nomads. While somewhat humiliating, the court concluded that the heqin treaties were less expensive than attempting to wage war against the Xiongnu.9

Horses were also a weapon of trade. Historically, both China and India were poor horse-producing regions, making them dependent on the nomads for horses. During times of war, the nomads stopped the flow of horses to the sedentary neighbors. This also forced sedentary powers, like the Han, to seek other nomads for horses. Various Chinese dynasties, beginning with the Qin dynasty (221–206 bce), built walls not only to defend against Xiongnu attacks, but also as an effort to claim territory (pastures) and prevent the nomads from returning. While the walls proved less effective as a defensive measure, sedentary powers in both west and east learned that the most effective way to deal with the fast moving nomadic armies was not to engage in combat, but to act politically.10

The Han dynasty in particular soon realized that in order to militarily defeat the Xiongnu, they needed more horses, but ideally from a different source that could not dictate the trade or the quality of horses. The Han also realized that an alliance with other nomads would provide them not only the necessary horses, but also the military resources to fight in the steppes. Horse archers were essential. Horse archers are found among the terracotta army of Qin Shihuangdi, but it is clear that Chinese horse-archer efficacy was not as great as the nomads’.11 Furthermore, if the Han could cleave tribes away from the core confederation, it would also weaken the imperial power of any steppe confederation such as the Xiongnu. By inducing subordinate tribes to move closer to Han territory, Emperor Wudi (r. 141–87 bce) was able to offer better trade terms and offer military support to tribes. This nibbled away at Xiongnu hegemony, and also provided the Han a nomadic ally, which then permitted them to penetrate deeper into the steppes.12 The Han efforts to attract nomadic allies did not immediately weaken the Xiongnu, but the practice took its toll over time. Unfortunately, the Han and other dynasties soon learned that fragmenting imperial confederations eliminated large-scale threats, but did not necessarily reduce raiding. Indeed, sometimes it increased it as the various new nomadic polities jockeyed for dominance in the steppes and used plunder from China to secure support among their followers and neighboring nomads.

The Stirrup and Composite Bow

Another key piece of technology that shaped steppe warfare and cavalry warfare in general was the stirrup. Archaeological evidence suggests that the stirrup first appeared among the Xianbei, who also established the Northern Wei dynasty (386–535). It is uncertain as to when the stirrup first appeared, as early stirrups were simply leather loops on one side of the saddle, primarily used as an aid in mounting the horse. An organic material, leather often decomposed in burial sites.

Improvements gradually came to the stirrup. What started as a simple leather loop transformed into a something with a wider platform with either wood or metal. Archaeological evidence supports fully developed stirrups (attached to both sides of the saddle) among the Xianbei in 322 ce.13 This development led to an increased use of heavy cavalry, not only with heavier armor but horse armor as well. Through cross-cultural contact between the Chinese and the Xianbei, the stirrup entered China and facilitated the appearance of heavy cavalry there as well.14 The stirrup gave the nomads several advantages. The first is that it made mounting a horse easier, but the second provided a decisive military advantage: it allowed the warrior to stand while riding. By being able to stand in the stirrups, the warrior could also deliver more powerful blows with swords, maces, or lances. Additionally, by standing in the stirrups, the archer could then use his legs as shock absorbers and time his shot to when the horse’s hooves were off the ground. This then factored into the development of more powerful composite bows, as the archer no longer had to brace himself with his lower body to remain on the horse while using his hands to shoot. More powerful composite bows provided greater range and penetrating power for arrows.

Also during the Xianbei period, one sees the development of rigid frame saddles, as opposed to the cloth and leather ones used in previous centuries. These saddles gave the rider a firmer platform. With these technological developments, the Xianbei used considerable numbers of heavily armored lancers as well as horse archers. They increasingly used armor on their horses as well, a trend that continued during the Ruruan khaganate (c. 402–552).15 These technological advances, however, were not necessary for heavy cavalry. The Sarmatians were noted for their threatening performance as heavy cavalry, even without stirrups, against the Roman Empire in 88 ce.16 A saddle with a higher back aided the Sarmatians and left its mark in Europe.

The stirrup did not reach Europe until the arrival of the Avars, a nomadic confederation that migrated westward into the Pontic steppes and those of Hungary in the late 6th and early 7th centuries.17 The Avars are believed to be an offshoot of the Ruruan confederation, who were overthrown in 552 by the Gök Turks, a former client tribe of the Ruruan. Although the Gök Turks then absorbed many of the Ruruan, others fled westward. As they came into contact with other nomads, the Ruruan refugees gradually took on a new identity as the Avars. Yet, their westward migration continued as the Gök Turks also expanded westward. By 558, the Avars reached the Pontic steppes and came into contact with the Byzantine Empire.

The reflexive composite bow was a compact weapon of 1 to 1.5 meters in length, which allowed the horse-archer to move his bow and shoot in an arc of 360 degrees. If the bow was too large, this could still be done, but more awkwardly as the archer had to angle the bow around the horse’s body. When the composite bow first appeared remains questionable, although archaeological evidence suggests that they appeared around 1000 bce.18 The bow itself was made with layers of wood and horn and glued together before being tightly bound with sinew. It was bent into a C shape and allowed to cure for a considerable time, even months. When the bow was ready, the bowyer then strung it by pulling the ends backwards, giving it a double recurve shape.

The bow continually evolved. For instance, the bow used by the Xiongnu—made of a wood core and reinforced with bone and horn overlays of 30 to 40 inches in length—had a range approximately 1.5 times longer than those used by the Scythians. The Xiongnu bow was larger, reaching approximately 1.5 meters. Tri-lobed arrowheads increased the Xiongnu’s lethality.19 While the sizes and draw of the bow varied, by the time of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the bow had an average draw of 100 pounds, with an extreme of 160. These bows had recorded ranges of 500 meters, although 300 was more common, with most shots in battle taking place at 100 meters or less.20 The bow was rarely unstrung. Unlike self-bows, like the long bow, the composite bow’s integrity did not diminish if it remained strung for extended periods. Humidity, however, did affect the bow’s performance.21

Hunting gave the nomads excellent opportunities to hone their archery skills, but they also trained through leisure activities. The most basic was to ride past a target, such as sheepskin stretched across a frame, and shoot. Other games included shooting at branches or leather balls set on posts, which then tested the nomad’s skill at a variety of angles and positions. Through these games, the nomads perfected the skill of not only archery, but also shooting from horseback. As the nomads, including women, learned these skills from childhood, by adults they were all proficient, which allowed virtually all adult men to serve as warriors. Additionally, as they trained from childhood, the nomads developed the strength to use bows with high pull weights. Their abilities made them feared opponents but also desirable mercenaries and auxiliaries in sedentary armies. Athens had a Scythian horse-archer police, and Huns served as mercenaries in Byzantine armies, as did various nomads in the armies of the Han, Qin, Sui, and Tang. Indeed, as the threat from the steppes increased, sedentary armies not only sought nomadic allies to counter the larger confederations, but they also hired mercenaries as well as modeled units within their own armies after the nomads. The Byzantines even created a hybrid force known as the cataphractoi. These were warriors, covered with mail and armed with lances as well as composite bows. The lance allowed these armored warriors to serve as heavy cavalry, while also possessing the ability to fight at a distance against the nomads through archery. It is likely that this model was adopted from the Parthians, who may have adopted the model from Sarmatians or other Iranian nomads in Central Eurasia.

Lamellar Armor and Swords

The typical image of a nomadic warrior is one of a lightly armored horse-archer, if he wore armor at all. This, however, is not completely accurate. The nomads appreciated body armor as much as any warrior. It is true that they did not seek to be encumbered with heavy armor that impeded their mobility—not only by slowing their horses with the extra weight, but by hindering their ability to turn easily in the saddle. Additionally, although metallurgy did exist in the steppes it was not common, and the nomads acquired metal armor, like chain mail, primarily through trade or plunder. The nomads, however, did develop elegant solutions.

Leather armor existed for centuries. Dried and cured animal skins provided inexpensive yet tough armor. It was both comparably light and easy to procure, as the hide from almost any animal sufficed. Naturally, some animals were preferred due to the toughness of the hide, such as oxen or buffalo. Such armor could stop sword cuts and deflect arrows. Lamellar armor, however, proved superior. Lamellar consists of small rectangles of material (leather, bone, horn, or metal) sewn together with thongs so that they overlap. The key difference between it and scale mail is that the bottom of the armor is also fastened down as well. Because the rectangles overlapped and provided two layers of armor, it was often better than chain mail, especially against archery.

Anyone could easily repair the armor. If one piece was damaged it was just a matter of replacing the damaged piece and securing the thongs, whereas chainmail required a blacksmith. Indeed, in theory any nomad could produce his own armor as all that was needed was leather. Of course, such a practice led to a considerable variety in quality.22 As with many skills, armor manufacturing became increasing specialized. In the east, the nomads typically wore a suit of lamellar armor that covered the chest and came down to a split skirt protecting the thighs. The shoulders were protected with additional pieces for the biceps. A simple helmet covered the head with a lamellar or leather aventail protecting the neck.

As with many ancient inventions, it is not clear when lamellar armor first appeared. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that iron lamellar armor as well as iron breastplates were in use in the eastern steppes by the Xiongnu, but lamellar armor gained notoriety through its use by the Sarmatians, who were active as a distinct entity from approximately 400s bce to 300s ce, contemporaneous to the Xiongnu.23 The Sarmatians used the composite bow and also wore lamellar and scale armor. The wealthiest wore armor made from metal, but the rank and file tended to wear similar armor made of horn, bone, or leather. The scale-like structure caused Greek observers to refer to it as “dragon scale.”24 As they were more heavily armored than the Scythians, the Sarmatians often preferred to engage in close combat using lances and swords, although they still used the composite bow. It is possible that the Sarmatians were the model for the cataphractoi as well as the knight of western Europe, and perhaps even the legends of the Knights of the Round Table as a Sarmatian unit was stationed in Britain.25 Their preference for the lance remained even as the Sarmatians began to fragment in the 1st century ce. One of the resulting subgroups, the Alans or As who dwelt in the steppes between the Black and Caspian Seas, remained committed to a mixture of lances and composite bows even into the 13th century. As a result, when the Mongols conquered the Alans in the late 1230s, the Alans often served as heavy cavalry in the Mongol army.

Lamellar armor remained a favorite armor in the steppes and continued to be used by the Gök Turks as well as subsequent nomadic empires, such as the Mongols. Its simplicity in design and manufacture also allowed it to be used as barding for horses. Lamellar armor continued to find wide use in East Asia well into the 17th century. While Turkic invasions of the Middle East may have introduced it to the Middle East, during the Mongol period and afterward, it remained popular.

In terms of hand-to-hand combat, which necessitated good body armor, the nomads used a variety of weapons, including axes and maces. As with other cultures, the sword proved to be a favored weapon for its versatility and the prestige the weapon carried. The Scythians favored short swords, but in the eastern steppes, the Xiongnu used longer broadswords. These continued to be the favored weapons of Xianbei and other pre-Turkic nomads in the Altai region and farther east.26 They tended to be single bladed, which added to the sword’s strength. The saber or scimitar, so often associated with the nomads, did not come into vogue until much later. Indeed, they are not common in the Middle East until 1500, although the Mongols and Turks before them introduced the weapon.27

Chinggis Khan’s Military Reforms

The Mongols are generally considered the pinnacle of steppe warfare based on the extent of their conquests, which formed the largest contiguous empire in history. Additionally, they are one of the few steppe empires that not only defeated but occupied sedentary states for long periods. Their tactics evolved from centuries of steppe warfare, as did their basic formation of a center with two wings, which tended to be larger so they could encircle the enemy. Often the army used a vanguard and rearguard, which could also serve as a reserve force. Every steppe army had its own variations so that to the untrained eye, the formations looked less like an ordered army and more like an undisciplined horde, a word derived from Turkic and Mongolian orda or ordo meaning “camp.”28

Certain tactics were associated with steppe warfare. One of the most well-known was the feigned retreat, where the nomadic warriors attacked and then retreated in an attempt to lure the enemy into an ambush. Even though it was a common tactic used by the nomads and known by sedentary armies, it remained effective for centuries as the nomads perfected its application. Still, more disciplined armies and commanders eschewed pursuit. Other nomads in particular were wary of retreating enemies. Indeed, on some occasions complete victory was delayed out of fear of a ruse, as in the case of the Mongol commander Baiju at the battle of Köse Dagh in 1243. After fighting the Seljuk Turks, the following morning Baiju found the battlefield abandoned by the Seljuks. He did not immediately pursue them due to concerns that it was a trick. Only after his scouts confirmed a full retreat by the Seljuks did Baiju give chase.

Curiously, much of what we know of steppe warfare comes from isolated incidents between sedentary and nomadic armies. However, the Byzantine emperor Maurikos (r. 582–602) gave considerable thought to steppe warfare as his empire bordered the nascent Avar Empire (558–796) in the Pontic and Danube steppes. In his Strategikon, Maurikos considered not only how to defend against the tactics of steppe warfare, but also how his own army could employ them. In this, he noted that although the feigned retreat was a standard steppe tactic, other armies had difficulty using it because they could not wheel around like the nomads. The Strategikon verifies that the nomads preferred to fight at long range while employing ambushes or encircling their enemies. Maurikos also noted that the nomads deployed in different formation from wedges to scattered groups, thus it was difficult to determine exactly what they would do. He wrote that not all nomads were well organized for war, but he indicated that the Avars and Turks were.29 Considering that both formed sizable empires, an organized and rational army gave them demonstrable advantages against other nomads. He noted that that key was that they trained in formations, unlike other nomads. A key part was hunting in formations that ultimately led to the encirclement of the game. Maurikos also observed that perhaps the best defense against the nomads was to limit their access to pastures.30

The basic tactics of the steppe warfare varied little if at all between the western and eastern steppes. It is also clear that not all nomads formed well-organized armies. Those confederations that had close ties to previous imperial confederations, such as the Gök Turks, tended to follow that tradition. For instance, both the Uighurs (744–840) in the eastern steppes and the Khazars (c. 627–950) in the western steppes continued to have well-trained militaries that could assert their dominance over both nomads and sedentary powers. Still, disciplined armies did not ensure dominance. The Khazars’ control of the steppe was disrupted by the arrival of the Pechenegs in the 10th century, and the Uighurs succumbed to their clients, the Kirgiz, in 840.

Significant political changes occurred with the intrusion of the Khitan Liao dynasty (906–1125) into the steppes. The Khitans were semi-pastoral, and their empire expanded over Manchuria, northern China, and much of modern Mongolia and perhaps even to Kazakhstan. In Mongolia, the Khitan established nine fortified garrison towns, many with blacksmith facilities, including one as far north as the Kerulen River.31 The Liao presence restored relative peace to the eastern steppes; they may have displaced some Turkic tribes, who then moved westward and formed the Qipchaq and Qangli confederations that dominated the Pontic and Caspian Steppes. It is clear that although these groups provided formidable warriors, they lacked an apparatus for empire. Furthermore, they lacked the means to conduct siege warfare, thus most of their military activities were raids on rival tribes and sedentary dwellers in Central Asia and among the Rus’ principalities.

The exact impact of the Liao on the Mongolian plateau remains undetermined. They did have a highly developed military, and elements of it may have trickled into the traditional military systems of the eastern steppes. The detailed description of Liao soldiers and their equipment found in the Liaoshi has certainly influenced how scholars viewed later steppe armies, such as the Mongols, perhaps assuming too much Khitan influence. Although the Liao required their soldiers to have nine pieces of iron armor, horse armor, four bows, 400 arrows, a long and short spear, club, axe, halberd, and a banner, plus ubiquitous tools, there is little indication the Mongols required this for each soldier.32

Not until the rise of the Mongols in the 13th century did steppe warfare see any dramatic changes. Numerous nomadic leaders had imposed strict discipline among their warriors, thus allowing them to control the often individualistic tendencies of the nomads. Chinggis Khan (1162–1227) was no exception. Yet, Chinggis Khan took steppe warfare to new heights and in many ways revolutionized it. He used standard steppe tactics, such as arrow showers and feigned retreats, while also training his troops to switch into different formations seamlessly, and he also introduced new elements.

A key component was instilling strict discipline and eradicating the old confederation structure in which tribal leaders owed allegiance to a more powerful ruler. Chinggis Khan intentionally destroyed competing aristocracies that opposed him and incorporated loyal ones through marriage alliances. He also did away with the nökör system in which loyal warriors with their retinue served a leader until they found reason to leave. The nökör became noyan or commanders (noyad [pl.]), who commanded decimally organized units. Decimal organization had been in existence in the eastern steppes since the Xiongnu period and continued through the Liao period. The key difference is that in previous eras, the units were still tribal based whereas Chinggis Khan took defeated groups and dispersed them among loyal regiments so that an enemy’s identity died with his aristocracy.

The first appearance of the new steppe warfare took place in 1204 at the battle of Chakirmaut, where the Mongols defeated the Naiman, a confederation that dominated western Mongolia. Here, the Mongols not only used multiple formations and tactics as was done in traditional steppe warfare, but also introduced formations in which the horse-archers advanced in files, shooting arrows before wheeling around and returning to the rear of their column. A similar formation appeared in 16th- and 17th-century European warfare, where it was known as the caracole.33 The tactic required great discipline and undoubtedly training as well so that riders did not collide with each other. The combination of new tactics with traditional ones, and the training for units to move from one to the other, seemingly suggests a higher degree of training and command ability, given that other nomads could find no counter for the Mongols.

The new units and command structure gave commanders greater flexibility. Chinggis Khan instituted a rational training system for his commanders so that subordinates could easily assume command should their commander be incapacitated. Additionally, it ensured that the commanders were of equal ability, although there was always room for exceptional generals as well, such as Sübedei (d. 1248) or Muqali (d. 1223). The unified command structure gave the Mongols a decisive edge as multiple armies could operate independently and without the khan being present.

The Mongols also introduced the nerge or jarga. At its basic level, the nerge was the hunting circle that nomads had used for centuries as a hunting technique but also as military training. In it, the hunters, spread over miles, gradually formed a circle with animals in the middle. Anyone who permitted an animal to escape was punished. The technique was a testimony to both the riding and herding skills of the nomads. The Mongols, however, took this to a grander level with the nerge implemented over dozens and even hundreds of miles.34 It became not just an encirclement tactic, but was also used on the strategic and operational level. Indeed, the initial push into the domains of the Rus’ princes was a nerge that extended over hundreds of miles.

The Mongols clearly viewed other nomads as the largest threat to their success and took the opportunity to neutralize them as quickly as possible. The subjugated nomads were then incorporated into the Mongol army, dispersed across many units so that they could never regain unity. The new recruits then received training alongside veteran Mongol warriors in the Mongol art of war.

Even after the Mongol Empire splintered into smaller khanates, the Mongol military remained formidable. Over time, however, the rigorous training, particularly of commanders, broke down as the Mongol states continued to fragment through internecine wars. Traditional steppe tactics and weaponry still made the nomads a daunting force, but they lacked the ability for global domination.

Meteorological Warfare

The Mongols also used meteorological warfare. This was the use of jada (Mong.) or yada (Turk.) stones to create rainstorms, blizzards, and other weather as a weapon against opponents. This was not a Mongolian innovation but rather something adopted from defeated Turkic groups.

Typically, the yada or rain stone was a bezoar, or a hardened concentration found in the stomach of a ruminant.35 A specialist (jadachi or yadachi) used the stone to summon or create a storm at the beginning of the battle. The practice of using rainstorms appeared much earlier than the 13th century, however. There is one mention of it being used during the Xiongnu period. The Gök Turks and Uighurs also used it with some frequency, although it remains unclear whether the Turkic nomads used it as a regular part of their arsenal or only on rare occasions.36

During the Mongol period, the employment of a jadachi appears to be regular. The Mongols first encountered it in 1201, where the storm actually backfired and affected only the Mongols’ enemies. As with many new weapons, the Mongols adopted it. In 1231, Tolui, Chinggis Khan’s fourth son, had a jadachi summon a storm against a Jin army, creating a blizzard during the summer. The Mongols switched to winter gear and then counterattacked the Jin. It is clear that the Mongols used jadachin (plural) frequently.37 What is not clear is how often a jadachi successfully summoned a storm. Most of the recorded instances indicate failure, but these are often in connection with stories demonstrating the superiority of Islam over infidels. Nonetheless, the fact that meteorological warfare remained in use in the 14th and 15th centuries suggests that it must have been deemed effective. Indeed, it is only in the early 16th century when nomadic armies encountered cannons, such as the Uzbeks versus the Safavids at the Battle of Merv in 1510, that the use of jada stones becomes infrequent and gradually disappears.38 The appearance of firearms clearly negated meteorological warfare as a viable part of steppe warfare. The modern observer may have doubts about weather magic’s efficacy, but its continued use and the presence of jadachin [pl] among the Mongol armies indicates that nomads believed it was effective.


Although steppe warfare remained largely the same in terms of tactics, which usually focused on archery, mobility, and subterfuge, technological developments such as stirrups and the composite bow gave the nomads more accurate shooting as well as greater range. Armor in combination with the stirrup also allowed certain nomads to develop heavy cavalry. Most nomadic confederations lacked the leadership to develop well-organized armies, however those that developed an imperial structure created armies that could dominate the battlefield from Europe to China. Through training and discipline, imperial confederations such as the Xiongnu and Turks took traditional steppe tactics to a more refined level. They did not, however, improve on them significantly except in the execution of the tactics.

Not until the rise of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire did steppe warfare change dramatically. The Mongols refined traditional tactics and brought innovation in training of not only armies, but also commanders. Furthermore, they found ways of successfully incorporating disparate groups (both nomadic and sedentary) into their military system. The Mongols also developed new tactics and strategies, which baffled not only sedentary armies, but also nomadic opponents.

Nomadic warfare and the Mongol system of warfare remained viable in the 14th century, but as imperial traditions broke down, the successor states of the Mongol Empire continued to fragment. The new imperial confederations that formed lacked the same gravitas and could not maintain unity. As gunpowder weapons encroached upon the steppes in the 16th century, steppe warfare began to be challenged for supremacy on the battlefield. The horse-archer could still win the day, but massed formations of musket-wielding infantry did not necessitate years of training, as did a horse-archer. With more mobile cannons, the nomads also lost their advantage of superior range. With numbers and quickly changing technology, it was only a matter of time before warfare based on massed firearms surpassed steppe warfare.

Discussion of the Literature

Scholarship on the military history of steppe warfare remains haphazard. Most of what is produced tends to focus on a narrative history of the steppes, often emulating Rene Grousset’s masterpiece, The Empire of the Steppes.39 Written in the 1940s, its analytical components are largely outdated, but the general narrative of events remains unsurpassed. Other works that provide a more scholarly approach include the two-volume Cambridge History of Inner Asia, with the first volume published in 1990 and edited by Denis Sinor.40 It covers up to the rise of the Mongols, while the second, published in 2009 traces the rise of the Mongols and successor states until the 18th century, when the steppes were absorbed by the Russian and Qing Empires.41 Anthropologist David Sneath contributed a significant study, The Headless State, which contends that nomads did build states that tended to be acephalous; while not directly tied to warfare, its discussion on the leadership structures helps explain why some nomadic entities created successful empires and how they dealt with defeated opponents.42 Thomas Barfield has also examined China’s long history with nomads in his The Perilous Frontier, which challenges the assumption that the nomadic empires of Mongolia always sought to conquer Mongolia.43

Several works also examine the origins of warfare between sedentary and nomadic powers. For the Xiongnu, Nicola Di Cosmo’s groundbreaking Ancient China and Its Enemies remains the essential scholarly study for not only the Xiongnu, but also China’s relations with them and other nomads, particularly in terms of warfare.44 Whereas Di Cosmo examines a particular era, Sechin Jagchid and Van Jay Symons study the longue durée in Peace, War, and Trade along the Great Wall.45

Somewhat surprisingly, there are few works devoted specifically to steppe warfare. Some scholarly articles exist, but, unfortunately, there are few exhaustive studies. Nicola Di Cosmo’s edited volume Warfare in Inner Asian History (500–1800) is an excellent starting point due to its breadth and depth of chapters by noted experts. The articles range from specific battles, such as Michal Biran’s examination of the Battle of Herat in 1270, to more broad studies on strategy and warfare like Peter B. Golden’s “War and Warfare in the Pre-Činggisid Western Steppes of Eurasia.”46 The most dominant steppe power, the Mongol Empire, has, however, received considerable attention. Focusing exclusively on the Mongol military is Timothy May’s The Mongol Art of War.47 H. D. Martin’s Chingis Khan and His Conquest of North China remains a useful study.48 Carl Sverdrup’s The Mongol Conquests provides a thoughtful examination of the campaigns of Chinggis Khan and his leading commander, Sübedei.49 Most other books dealing with warfare add little new information or are tied to specific battles. There are exceptions in the scholarly literature of course, particularly in the articles by Reuven Amitai and John Masson Smith Jr.50 As both often debated various issues, their works should be read in tandem, although most of their discussion focused on Mongol warfare in the Middle East. For the 14th and early 15th century, Beatrice Manz’s The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane remains the most critical scholarly work.51 Regarding meteorological warfare, Adam Molnar’s Weather Magic in Inner Asia is indispensable.52 Peter Perdue’s China Marches West examines how and why the Qing were able to bring Mongolia into their orbit and effectively bring the dominance of steppe warfare to an end. Perdue also clearly demonstrates why gunpowder weapons became increasing important in subduing the nomads, and also how nomads began to use them as well.53

This brief review of the literature does not take into account all of the works in English, particularly in scholarly journals. Nonetheless, it does reveal a paucity concerning the study of steppe warfare. Most works examine the rise and expansion of empires rather than the actual mechanics of warfare.

Primary Sources

The study of steppe warfare begins with Herodotus’s The Histories.54 His commentary on the Scythians continues to be proved accurate as archaeology on the Scythian reveals more of their material culture. Because of this, his other commentary, such as on warfare, should be considered accurate, particularly as Scythian warfare has close similarities to that of other groups. His work also serves as a starting point for the Sarmatians as well. Whereas Herodotus remains the starting point for the Scythians, Sima Qian is the foundation for our understanding of the Xiongnu. His Shiji or Records of the Grand Historian is focused on the Qin and Han dynasties but devotes considerable attention to the Xiongnu and other nomadic groups near the borders of China.55

The various empires of China as well as the Roman Empire will provide many other sources for the study of steppe warfare. From China, every dynasty left a chronicle, although many of these are not completely translated into English. From the Roman and Byzantine Empires, like China, many of the sources provide only sections on their nomadic neighbors. During the period of the Huns, however, Procopius’s Secret History provides a rich account of the Huns as do earlier sources such as Ammianus Marcellinus and Priscus of Panium.56

As mentioned previously, the Byzantine emperor Maurikos’s Strategikon is a crucial examination of steppe warfare from the perspective of one who not only encountered it, but also sought to train his army against it.57 His work contains perspective on not only the Avars, but the Turks and Alans as well. For the latter, there is not a single source specifically devoted to them, but the scholar Agusti Alemany has compiled the vast majority in a single volume titled Sources on the Alans: A Critical Compilation.58

For the Turks and Uighurs, we have not only Chinese sources from the Sui and Tang periods, but also a number of reports from the Islamic world. Several Arabic sources provide information on the Turks, but Ibn Fadlan’s Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North provides an excellent glimpse into the lives of a number of nomadic groups in their own environment, as the Abbasid ambassador traveled to the city of Bulghar, located on the Volga River. Others who entered the steppe included Ibn Rusta and Masʿūdi, both of whom visited the Khazar kingdom.59 From these, some details about steppe warfare can be gleaned.

The rise of the Mongol Empire, however, provides a much deeper and richer variety of sources concerning not only the Mongols, but also steppe warfare. The Secret History of the Mongols, one of the very few accounts of the empire and rise of Chinggis Khan from a Mongolian perspective, provides a wealth of information on steppe warfare and Chinggis Khan’s Military Revolution; however, the details can be difficult to tease out.60 Other accounts include the Mengda Beilu [Record of the Mongols and Tatars] written by Zhao Gong in 1221; it is rich in detail about the Mongol military machine, particularly when paired with the Heida shilue [Brief account of the Black Tatar] by Peng Daya and Xu Ting.61 Other Chinese sources include the dynastic chronicles, such as the Jin Shi, Song Shi, and Yuan Shi. Another source, which appears to have originally been Mongolian, but survives only in Chinese, is the Shengwu Qinzheng Lu or Record of the Campaigns of the Holy Warrior, meaning Chinggis Khan.62 It covers material from the Secret History and provides detailed information on his campaigns against the Jin Empire. For the Mongols’ western campaigns, Juvaini, Juzjani, and Rashid al-Din all provide crucial accounts that also include some information on steppe warfare prior to the Mongols.63 Numerous other Arabic, Armenian, Rus’, Latin, and Japanese accounts, among others, also exist.64 From the Latin, the chronicle of Matthew Paris and the travel accounts of Friar John de Plano Carpini and Friar William of Rubruck all contain accounts of Mongol warfare including tactics and equipment, and all have been translated. Of course, the most famous western account is that of Marco Polo, of which numerous translations exist.65 Rus’ accounts are also useful for their information on the Mongols and the Kipchak Turks who dominated the western steppes in the 12th century.66 Information on later periods by Khwandamir and Mirza Haydar Dughlat among others provides a rich account of steppe warfare as well as nomadic warfare in the Middle East in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.67

Further Reading

Allsen, Thomas T. “Prelude to the Western Campaigns: Mongol Military Operations in the Volga-Ural Region, 1217–1237.” Archivam Eurasiae Medii Aevi 3 (1983): 5–23.Find this resource:

Allsen, Thomas T. Mongol Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.Find this resource:

Amitai, Reuven. “‘Ayn Jâlûṭ Revisited.” Tarih 2 (1992): 119–150.Find this resource:

Amitai-Preiss, Reuven. Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, 1260–1281. Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Barfield, Thomas J. The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, 221 BC to AD 1757. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1992.Find this resource:

Biran, Michal. “‘Like a Mighty Wall’: The Armies of Qara Khitai.” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 25 (2001): 44–91.Find this resource:

Di Cosmo, Nicola. Ancient China and Its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Di Cosmo, Nicola, ed. Warfare in Inner Asian History, 500–1800. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.Find this resource:

Di Cosmo, Nicola, Allen J. Frank, and Peter B. Golden. The Cambridge History of Inner Asia: The Chinggisid Age. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Golden, Peter B. An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples: Ethnogenesis and State-Formation in Medieval and Early Modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1992.Find this resource:

Graff, David A. The Eurasian Way of War: Military Practice in Seventh-Century China and Byzantium. London: Routledge, 2016.Find this resource:

Khudjakov, Julij S. “Armaments of Nomads of the Altai Mountains (First Half of the 1st Millennium AD).” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 58, no. 2 (2005): 117–133.Find this resource:

Manz, Beatrice Forbes. The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Martin, H. Desmond. The Rise of Chingis Khan and His Conquest of North China. New York: Octagon, 1971.Find this resource:

May, Timothy. The Mongol Conquests in World History. London: Reaktion, 2012.Find this resource:

May, Timothy. The Mongol Art of War. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2007.Find this resource:

Morgan, David O. “The Mongol Armies in Persia.” Der Islam 56 (1976): 80–96.Find this resource:

Ratchnevsky, Paul. Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy. Trans. Thomas Nivison Haining. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992.Find this resource:

Sinor, Denis. “On Mongol Strategy.” In Proceedings of the Fourth East Asian Altaistic Conference. Edited by Ch’en Chieh-hsien. Taipei, China. December, 1971.Find this resource:

Sinor, Denis, ed. The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Smith, John Masson, Jr. “Demographic Considerations in Mongol Siege Warfare.” Archivum Ottomanicum 13 (1993–1994): 329–335.Find this resource:

Sneath, David. The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, and Misrepresentation of Nomadic Inner Asia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.Find this resource:


(1.) See Rudi Lindner, “What Was a Nomadic Tribe?” Comparative Studies in Society and History 24, no. 4 (1982): 689–711; and David Sneath, The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, and Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 39–64.

(2.) Ute Luise Dietz, “Horseback Riding: Man’s Access to Speed?” in Prehistoric Steppe Adaptation and the Horse, eds. Marsha Levine, Colin Renfrew, and Katie Boyle (Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge, MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2003), 189–199.

(3.) David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 223.

(4.) Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, 216–220; and Drews, Early Riders, 32 fn.

(5.) Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, 213–222.

(6.) Christopher Baumer, The History of Central Asia: The Age of the Steppe Warriors (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012), 84–85.

(7.) Baumer, History of Central Asia, 1:85

(8.) Herodotus, 4:120–130.

(9.) Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty II, trans. Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 138–139.

(10.) Nicola Di Cosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 155–158.

(11.) Albert E. Dien, “The Stirrup and Its Effect on Chinese Military History,” Ars Orientalis 16 (1986): 36–37.

(12.) Sima Qian, Han Dynasty II, 231–235.

(13.) Baumer, History of Central Asia, 1:85; and Dien, “The Stirrup and Its Effect,” 33–34.

(14.) Dien, “The Stirrup and Its Effect,” 41–42.

(15.) Julij S. Khudjakov, “Armaments of the Nomads of the Altai Mountains (First Half of the 1st Millennium AD),” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae 58, no. 2 (2005): 123.

(16.) Johan W. Easdie, “The Development of Roman Mailed Cavalry,” Journal of Roman Studies 57, no. 1 (1967): 165–167.

(17.) Florin Curta, “The Earliest Avar-Age Stirrups, or the ‘Stirrup Controversy,’” in The Other Europe in the Middle Ages: Avars, Bulgars, Khazars and Cumans, ed. Florin Curta (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008), 297–326.

(18.) Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, 223.

(19.) Khudjakov, “Armaments of the Nomads,” 119.

(20.) Timothy May, The Mongol Art of War (Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2007, 2016), 50–52.

(21.) Maurikos, Maurice’s Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy, trans. George T. Dennis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), 114.

(22.) May, Mongol Art of War, 53–54.

(23.) Khudjakov, “Armaments of the Nomads,” 122.

(24.) A. I. Melyukova, “The Scythians and Sarmatians,” in The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, ed. Denis Sinor (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 113.

(25.) See C. Scott Littleton and Ann C. Thomas, “The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends,” Journal of American Folklore, 91, no. 359 (1978): 513–527; and Richard Wadge, “King Arthur: A British or Sarmatian Tradition?” Folklore 98, no. 2 (1987): 204–215.

(26.) Khudjakov, “Armaments of the Nomads,” 126.

(27.) A. Rahman Zaky, “Introduction to the Study of Islamic Arms and Armour,” Gladius 1 (1961): 17.

(28.) Peter B. Golden, “War and Warfare in the Pre-Činggisid Western Steppes of Eurasia,” in Warfare in Inner Asian History, ed. Nicola Di Cosmo (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002), 133–135.

(29.) Maurikos, Maurice’s Strategikon, 114–117.

(30.) Maurikos, Maurice’s Strategikon, 117.

(31.) Sechen Jagchid, Essays in Mongolian Studies (Provo, UT: David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, Brigham Young University, 1987), 29–30.

(32.) Michal Biran “‘Like a Mighty Wall’: The Armies of Qara Khitai (1124–1218),” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 25 (2001): 64.

(33.) May, Mongol Art of War, 42–49.

(34.) May, Mongol Art of War, 46–47.

(35.) Igor de Rachewiltz, ed. and trans., The Secret History of the Mongols (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004), 1:525.

(36.) Adam Molnar, Weather Magic in Inner Asia (Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1994), 1, 8–9.

(37.) Rashid al-Din, Jami’u’t-tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), parts 1–3, trans. W. M. Thackston (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Department of Near Eastern Languages, 1998), 314–315; and Ala al-Din Ata Malik ibn Muhammad Juvaini, Genghis Khan: The History of the World Conqueror, trans. John A. Boyle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 192–194.

(38.) Molnar, Weather Magic, 146.

(39.) Rene Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia, trans. Naomi Walford (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970).

(40.) Denis Sinor, ed., The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, vol. 1 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

(41.) Nicola Di Cosmo, Allen J. Frank, and Peter B. Golden, The Cambridge History of Inner Asia, vol. 2, The Chinggisid Age (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

(42.) Sneath, The Headless State.

(43.) Thomas J. Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, 221 BC to AD 1757 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992).

(44.) Nicola Di Cosmo, Ancient China and Its Enemies (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

(45.) Sechin Jagchid and Van Jay Symons, Peace, War, and Trade along the Great Wall: Nomadic-Chinese Interaction through Two Millennia (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1989).

(46.) Michal Biran, “The Battle of Herat (1270): A Case of Inter-Mongol Warfare,” in Warfare in Inner Asian History (500–1800), ed. Nicola Di Cosmo (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 175–220; and Golden, “War and Warfare,” 105–172.

(47.) May, Mongol Art of War.

(48.) H. D. Martin, Chingis Khan and His Conquest of North China (New York: Octagon, 1981).

(49.) Carl Fredrik Sverdrup, The Mongol Conquests: The Military Operations of Genghis Khan and Sübe’etei (Solihull, UK: Helion, 2017).

(50.) Reuven Amitai, “Whither the Ilkhanid Army? Ghazan’s First Campaign into Syria (1299–1300),” in Warfare in Inner Asian History, 500–1800, ed. Nicola Di Cosmo (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002), 221–264; Reuven Amitai, “Northern Syria between the Mongols and Mamluks: Political Boundary, Military Frontier, and Ethnic Affinities,” in Frontiers in Question: Eurasian Borderlands, 700–1700, ed. Daniel Power and Naomi Standen (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999), 128–152; Reuven Amitai, “‘Ayn Jâlûṭ Revisited,” Tarih 2 (1992): 119–150; Reuven Amitai, “In the Aftermath of ‘Ayn Jalût: The Beginnings of the Mamlûk-Ilkhânid Cold War,” Al-Masâq 3 (1990): 1–21; Reuven Amitai, “Mongol Raids into Palestine,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 2 (1987): 236–255; John Masson Smith Jr., “Mongol Nomadism and Middle Eastern Geography: Qîshlâqs and Tümens,” in The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy, eds. Reuven Amitai-Preiss and David O. Morgan (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 39–56; John Masson Smith Jr., “Obstacles to the Mongol Conquest of Europe,” Mongolica: An International Annual of Mongol Studies, 10, no. 31 (2000): 461–470; John Masson Smith Jr., “Mongol Society and Military in the Middle East: Antecedents and Adaptations,” In War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean, 7th–15th Centuries, ed., Yaacov Lev (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1996); John Masson Smith Jr., “The Mongols and World Conquest,” Mongolica 5, no. 26 (1994): 206–214; John Masson Smith Jr., “Demographic Considerations in Mongol Siege Warfare,” Archivum Ottomanicum 13 (1993–1994): 329–335; John Masson Smith Jr., “‘Ayn Jalut: Mamluk Success or Mongol Failure?” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 44 (1984): 307–345; John Masson Smith Jr., “Mongol Campaign Rations: Milk, Marmots, and Blood?” Journal of Turkish Studies 8 (1984): 223–228; and John Masson Smith Jr., “Mongol Manpower and Persian Population,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 18, no. 3 (1975): 271–299.

(51.) Beatrice Forbes Manz, The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

(52.) Adam Molnar, Weather Magic in Inner Asia (Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1994).

(53.) Peter C. Perdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).

(54.) Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

(55.) Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty, trans. Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993); and Sima Qian, Han Dynasty II.

(56.) Procopius, The Secret History, trans. Peter Sarris, G. A. Williamson (New York: Penguin, 2007); Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire (A. D. 354–378), trans. Walter Hamilton (New York: Penguin, 1986); and Priscus, The Fragmentary History of Priscus: Attila, the Huns and the Roman Empire, AD 430–476 (Merchantville, NJ: Arx, 2014).

(57.) Maurikos, Maurice’s Strategikon.

(58.) Agusti Alemany, Sources on the Alans: A Critical Compilation (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000).

(59.) Ibn Fadlan, Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North (New York: Penguin, 2012).

(60.) Igor de Rachewiltz, ed., The Secret History of the Mongols, 3 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004, 2013). Numerous other editions exist, but this is considered the most authoritative.

(61.) Zhao Hong, Meng-Da Bei-Lu: Polnoe Opisanie Mongolo-Tatar, trans. Nikolai Ts. Munkuev (Moscow: Academy of Sciences [Nauka], 1975); Zhao Hong, “Meng Da bei Lu (“Monggol-Tatar-un Tuqai Burin Temdeglel”-un Tayilburilan Gerecilegsen Bicig),” in Bogda Bagatur Bey-e-Ber Tayilagsan Temdeglel, ed. Asaraltu (Qayilar: Obor Monggol-un Soyul-un Keblel-un Qoriy-a: Kolun Boyir Ayimag-un Sinquva Bicig-un Delgegur tarqagaba, 1985), 95–158; and Peng Daya, and Xu Ting, “Hei Da Shi Lue (“Qar-a Tatar-un Tuqai Kereg-un Tobci”-Yin Tayilburilan Gerecilegsen Bicig),” in Bogda Bagatur Bey-e-Ber Tayilagsan Temdeglel, ed. Asaraltu (Qayilar: Obor Monggol-un Soyul-un Keblel-un Qoriy-a: Kolun Boyir Aimag-un Sinquva Bicig-un Delgegur tarqagaba, 1985), 159–256.

(62.) Paul Pelliot and Louis Hambis, Histoire des Campagnes de Gengis Khan: Cheng-Wou Ts’in-Tcheng Lou (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1951); and He Qiutao, “Sheng Wu Qin Zheng Lu (Bogda Bagatur Bey-e-Ber Tayilagsan Temdeglel),” in Bogda Bagatur Bey-e-Ber Tayilagsan Temdeglel, ed. Asaraltu, (Qayilar: Obor Monggol-un Soyul-un Keblel-un Qoriy-a: Kolun Boyir Ayimag-un Sinquva Bicig-un Delgegur tarqagaba, 1985), 3–95.

(63.) ‘Ala-ad-Din ‘Ata-Malik Juvaini, The History of the World-Conqueror, trans. J. A. Boyle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997); Minhaj Siraj Juzjani, Tabaqat-i-Nasiri: A General History of the Muhammadan Dynasties of Asia, 2 vols., trans. Major H. G. Raverty (New Delhi: Oriental Book Reprint, 1970); and Rashiduddin Fazullah, Jami’u’t Tawarikhi: Compendium of Chronicles: A History of the Mongols, 3 vols., trans. W. M. Thackston (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1998).

(64.) R. P. Blake and R. N. Frye, trans., “The History of the Nation of the Archers by Grigor of Akanc,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 12 (1949): 269–399; Hetoum, A Lytell Cronycle, ed. Glenn Burger (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988); Ibn al-Athir, The Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the Crusading Period from al-Kamil fi’l-ta’rikh, pt. 3, The Years 589–629/1193–1231: The Ayyubids after Saladin and the Mongol Menace, trans. D. S. Richard (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008); Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battuta, trans. H. A. R. Gibb (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1962); and Bar Hebraeus, The Chronography of Gregory Abu’l-Faraj, 2 vols., trans. Ernest A. Wallis Budge (Amsterdam: APA-Philo, 1932).

(65.) Christopher Dawson, ed., The Mongol Mission: Narratives and Letters of the Franciscan Missionaries in Mongolia and China in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London: Sheed and Ward, 1955); Matthew Paris, English History, 3 vols., trans. J. A. Giles (New York: AMS, 1968); Matthew Paris, The Travels of Marco Polo, 2 vols., trans. Henry Yule, ed. Henri Cordier (New York: Dover, 1993); and William of Rubruck, The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck: His Journey to the Court of the Great Khan Mongke, 1253–1255, trans. Peter Jackson, eds. Peter Jackson and David Morgan (London: Hakluyt Society, 1990).

(66.) George A. Perfecky, ed. and trans., The Hypatian Codex II: The Galician-Volynian Chronicle (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1973); Robert Michell and Nevill Forbes, eds. and trans. The Chronicle of Novgorod, 1016–1471 (London: Offices of the Royal Historical Society, 1914); Serge A. Zenkovsky, ed., Medieval Russian’s Epics, Chronicles, and Tales (New York: Penguin Group, 1974); and Serge A. Zenkovsky, ed., The Nikonian Chronicle, 5 vols., trans. Serge A. Zenkovsky and Betty Jean Zenkovsky (Princeton, NJ: Kingston, 1984).

(67.) W. M. Thackston, Classical Writings of the Medieval Islamic World: Persian Histories of the Mongol Dynasties, 3 vols. (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012). This 3-volume set includes Mirza Haydar Dughlat, Khwandamir, and also Rashid al-Din, respectively.